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Barcelona were handed a potentially tough draw in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, but just as he has done domestically in La Liga, Ernesto Valverde guided his team to the top, and they’re through to the last 16 with the minimum of fuss.

The Camp Nou side started off with a statement victory, walloping Juventus 3-0 back in September. Further wins over Sporting CP and Olympiakos followed, before goalless draws against both the Greek side and Juve left qualification ensured with a game to spare.

Top spot was secured on the final matchday, winning 2-0 at home to Sporting on Tuesday night. Valverde has rotated when needed, particularly in midfield, with a full 22 players seeing game time in Europe thus far.

So who were Barca’s best performers across the six group-stage games? We’ve looked back at each of the six fixtures and ranked the squad according to their impact on the continental scene this term, factoring in opposition and individual performance as well as game time and importance to the team.

        

Unranked

Rafinha has been injured all season and is yet to feature. Arda Turan has been out of favour and is similarly without an appearance.

        

22. Aleix Vidal

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05:  Aleix Vidal of FC Barcelona reacts during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Sporting CP at Camp Nou on December 5, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The versatile right-sided performer had only played a single minute before the last match against Sporting, where he started and featured for around an hour.

There’s no real way to judge Vidal’s contribution; he was fine as an outlet but had minimum contribution in the final third, and the team fared far better once he was off—largely because his replacement was Lionel Messi.

        

21. Thomas Vermaelen

Vermaelen’s only performance of the group stage also came in the last game, and the Belgian defender played reasonably solidly, not making critical errors or looking out of place in the back line.

He’s still fourth choice, but with injuries and absences at centre-back, there’s a chance for him to make a late case for more regular inclusion. So far, so good for Vermaelen, who is definitely on his final opportunity at Barcelona.

         

20. Andre Gomes

Gomes played in five Champions League games out of the six, but he totalled only around 125 minutes; 15 minutes or less as sub on four occasions, then the entirety of the final group game.

That was naturally his best contribution, and he played with a little more aggression and reliability in his passing than has been the case on far too many occasions until now.

He needs more than a reasonable performance in a dead rubber to win a regular place, but at least this could bring back some confidence.

          

19. Paco Alcacer

Alcacer hadn’t even gotten off the bench until the final group game, but the 90 minutes he played against Sporting yielded a goal and an energetic, if not terribly classy, performance.

Alcacer ran the channels constantly, switching with Luis Suarez between centre and flank, and he was a threat to the Sporting back line on occasion.

A flicked header at the near post was his eventual reward, opening the scoring for his team.

         

18. Jasper Cillessen

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05:  Jasper Cillessen of FC Barcelona reacts during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Sporting CP at Camp Nou on December 5, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Im

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Back-up goalkeepers can be unreliable, rusty and error-prone at times, but a single 90-minute performance is all it took Barca’s Cillessen to show that’s far from the truth with him.

The Dutchman was imperious, making two good saves and one absolutely outstanding one—an instinctive reflex stop from point-blank range to deny Bas Dost and keep a clean sheet.

Chances have been few and far between for Cillessen, but he took this opportunity to shine in style.

        

17. Javier Mascherano

Injuries and playing second-fiddle to Samuel Umtiti have slowed down Mascherano’s previously unstoppable career trajectory at Barcelona and, as such, his performances have suffered a little.

He’s still an organiser, a leader, a determined presence on the pitch, but it’s apparent in his short game time that the rhythm in his performances could suffer now in appearing only sporadically—not unusual considering he’s been used to being a first-choice everywhere since about the age of 20.

Mascherano only featured twice, though he’ll still have a role to play in the team if he doesn’t leave in January.

        

16. Denis Suarez

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05:  Denis Suarez of Barcelona controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Sporting CP at Camp Nou on December 5, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Gett

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Denis has found game time hard to come by also, but an impressive display from a central-midfield role against Sporting once more showed his capabilities.

He’s one of the few midfielders left at the club who follow Andres Iniesta’s penchant for receiving possession on the turn, immediately heading into space. As Valverde’s side are a little more direct and even stodgy at times, that’s an important trait to incorporate.

Just two games for Denis in the group stage.

         

15. Gerard Deulofeu

Perhaps we’re even being a little generous in placing Deulofeu this high. He played three games but just half a match on two occasions and just over 50 minutes once.

That he keeps being selected hints that Valverde sees enough in him to feature as a prominent part of the team across the year, but Deulofeu too often flatters to deceive and shows little end product.

       

14. Ousmane Dembele

GETAFE, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 16:  Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between Getafe and Barcelona at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on September 16, 2017 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)

fotopress/Getty Images

Just the one appearance for Barca’s big summer-signing Dembele before injury struck and he was ruled out for likely the remainder of the calendar year.

He started and featured for the majority of the opening match against Juventus and, despite clearly not being at his absolute best or fully integrated into the team, he did look a threat and carried the ball well on the attack.

There’s much more to come from Dembele, and watching how Valverde incorporates him into the system will be interesting. He could be a difference-maker for Barcelona in breaking teams down once the knockouts start.

        

13. Lucas Digne

There can’t really be any complaints at Digne’s involvement; he played in half the group games, rotating in and out with Jordi Alba, and performed reasonably well considering he isn’t a regular usually.

Against Sporting, he was fortunate to escape after clearly handballing in the box, with no penalty given, but his defensive work has been pretty sound otherwise.

He’s not as rapid as Alba going forward, but he is more diligent about his passing—he’s a neat-and-tidy No. 2 on the left.

     

12. Gerard Pique

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05:  Gerard Pique of FC Barcelona looks on during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Sporting CP at Camp Nou on December 5, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Imag

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

2017/18 hasn’t been Pique’s best campaign so far, it has to be said.

Perhaps he’s struggling under the changing dynamic of the team, or maybe it’s just a natural downturn in form, but errors have crept back into his game, and he has struggled against more than one opponent who wouldn’t usually be classed in the same level as the centre-back.

He helped keep plenty of clean sheets, true, but up against the likes of Paulo Dybala, he was pulled out of position several times and couldn’t close down shots when needed. Better will be required from the starting defender in the knockout phases.

       

11. Luis Suarez

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05:  Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona reacts during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Sporting CP at Camp Nou on December 5, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

If Pique’s form has been troubling, Suarez’s can be classed as frustrating, though tinged with feeling sorry for the striker perhaps.

His work rate and movement off the ball continues to be relentless, he gets shots away as soon as he’s able and his link play can still be good at times…yet inside the penalty box, he’s simply nowhere near his usual level.

In fact, Suarez played more minutes than any other Barca player in the group stage, but he failed to score a goal.

       

10. Sergi Roberto

Into the top 10 and Roberto kicks us off, having played a big role in the earlier matches as Barca ensured they’d go through.

He played both from right midfield and right-back, switching as Valverde decided was required. In both positions he was solid, on the front foot, full of running and tactically disciplined.

Good overall, without being a star.

       

9. Paulinho

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05:  Jose Paulo Bezerra 'Paulinho' of FC Barcelona in action during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Sporting CP at Camp Nou on December 5, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Paulinho was one of a handful of Barcelona players to feature in all six group games, though half of his games were starts and half off the bench.

Still, the Brazilian has been largely useful and fills an important role when called upon, being more forceful in driving forward than some of his midfield team-mates and able to close down higher up the pitch thanks to his athleticism.

Against Juventus he was disappointing, but otherwise he hasn’t fared poorly so far.

        

8. Ivan Rakitic

Rakitic has taken a bit of stick in some circles this season, but he’s been one of the players most affected by the constant rotations and systematic switches at Barcelona over the last year or so.

Valverde has followed on from Luis Enrique in using the Croatian’s versatility as a building block; he has played centrally, in a three and four, at the base of a diamond and briefly from the right in the Champions League alone.

All things considered, he hasn’t been bad at all, even if Barcelona aren’t getting the best out of him right now.

       

7. Nelson Semedo

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 22:  Nelson Semedo of Barcelona looks on during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Juventus and FC Barcelona at Allianz Stadium on November 22, 2017 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images)

Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images

The battle for the right-back spot is intense this season at the Camp Nou, but Semedo has been impressive every time he’s given the chance to show his worth.

Athletic, powerful and quick in recoveries, he’s both a good outlet and a fine defensive option for Valverde’s side, and he has had a couple of impressive performances already in Europe.

It’s clear he could be first-choice for the big games going forward.

        

6. Jordi Alba

Nothing new or unexpected from Alba; the left-back is rapid to cover ground, aggressive off the ball, defends like a terrier and is a great outlet going forward.

He plays in a simple way and is good at it; his form earlier in the season was somewhat erratic, but that hasn’t hampered him in his European performances, playing in four of the six in the group.

He’s the first choice and usually consistent.

        

5. Andres Iniesta

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02:  Andres Iniesta of Barcelona runs with the ball during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on December 2, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Iniesta is a regular performer under Valverde, though the manager does still look to protect him and take him off in matches—but the Spanish maestro has rediscovered his best form at times this year.

On the sides of a midfield diamond or even as an interior in a quartet, Iniesta is afforded the space to run forward on the diagonal, attacking the channel and skipping past players away from the clustered centre of the pitch.

More than once in Europe he has put on brief masterclasses in creativity; the 33-year-old still has a lot to give and is still a critical piece of the puzzle for the Blaugrana.

       

4. Sergio Busquets

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02:  Sergio Busquets of Barcelona in action during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on December 2, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Busquets is still the one player that Barca don’t really have a direct replacement for, though Sergi Roberto, Gomes and Rakitic can all fill his role in different ways.

He’s a guaranteed name on the teamsheet precisely because he gives the team something no other can: that assurance that the defence is protected, his intelligent passing between the lines and great reading of the game.

Busquets played in all six, including a stint at centre-back against Sporting.

         

3. Samuel Umtiti

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02:  Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona runs with the ball during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on December 2, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The absolute star in Barcelona’s defence again this season, Umtiti didn’t miss a single minute of Champions League action in the first five games, though injury kept him out against Sporting.

The French defender has every required trait to his game at the back: great pace, aggression, an aerial presence, good reading of the game and the willingness to make important challenges at the right time.

He’s a must-play for the team and for the manager, and his two-month lay-off will be felt.

      

2. Marc-Andre ter Stegen

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02:  Ter Stegen of Barcelona celebrates during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on December 2, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

There might be another Barcelona player still making waves in the attacking half of the pitch, but in the defensive half, Ter Stegen has spent most of 2017 proving he has become one of the world’s most accomplished, complete and reliable goalkeepers.

His form in the Champions League is not exempt; he conceded just one goal in the opening five games, a last-minute looping header against Olympiakos, from a corner, which he could do nothing about.

That aside, Europe has been a viewing ground for some of his best work, including a last-minute save against Paulo Dybala in Turin, several on-the-stretch saves at home to Juve and a host of secure, consistent goalkeeping moments against Sporting.

        

1. Lionel Messi

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona looks on during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Sporting CP at Camp Nou on December 5, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Alex Caparros/Getty Images

If only for his exploits in the opening game alone, Messi would top these rankings. He was excellent against Juventus at the Camp Nou—but he didn’t stop there, putting in a masterclass against Olympiakos and even shining away from home when Barca were held goalless.

Perhaps the highlight was his second goal against Juve, cutting in to leave the defence flat-footed and sending Gigi Buffon the wrong way with his shot…from 20 yards.

Messi has been stunning again in Europe, even without his team really getting toward top gear, and it is fair to suggest that the rest of the group will have to step up more if Barcelona want to go all the way in the competition.

But it’s still Messi who is most capable of ensuring they do exactly that, and so far in the 2017/18 campaign, he’s doing all he can to keep Barca in the running.

        

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